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Hallowe’en in Skeleton Park 2016

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Biggest Crowd Ever? Hallowe’en Parade 2015


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Twenty Storeys High: Is the Capitol Condo Development Good for Kingston?

by Samantha King

Kingstonites have good reason to be concerned about a proposal to build a twenty-storey condo tower, “The Capitol,” on the site of the former movie theatre at 223 Princess Street.

At a Jimageuly 22 meeting organized by the McBurney Park Neighbourhood Association, In8 Development’s Darryl Firsten presented his company’s plan for the building, which would dwarf the characterful two and three storey retail and service spaces that largely comprise the downtown core. Two councilors, Jim Neill and Jeff McLaren, were in attendance and listening intently to public concerns.

Not one member of the public spoke in favour of a structure this high. Instead, speaker after speaker addressed the effect of the tower on the heritage look and feel of downtown and the fear that this project would provide other high-rise-happy developers—especially those with their sights trained on the North Block—a proverbial foot in the door.

While Mr. Firsten attempted to address heritage concerns by claiming that the height of the building would be unnoticed by people in its immediate vicinity, he refused to acknowledge that such concerns extend beyond Princess Street to the fact that the tower would dominate the skyline of Kingston and change its look and feel forever. He also did nothing to allay fears that should the city grant a bylaw exemption for a 20-storey building, there would be significant pressure from other developers to have the same (or greater) exception applied to them.

Through letters to the planning committee and at a previous public meeting, concerned citizens have outlined numerous additional problems that are likely to arise from this development: High rise corridors of luxury condos tend to lead to higher rents for small businesses which are subsequently replaced with chain stores, banks, and other service-sector tenants who cater primarily to the corporate classes. Such a transformation is already underway along Princess Street and the building of the Capitol would only intensify this trend. If there are to be a mix of people living downtown, the need to build affordable housing with low access points is crucial.

There are also practical concerns about the creation of wind tunnels and shade, car traffic congestion, the volume of garbage and recycling that would be generated in an area where this is already a problem, the ability of surrounding retail businesses to survive during the build, and the upshot of all of these effects for the city’s tourism industry.

Critics of the project are keen to note their support for downtown densification and at least some are willing to support a 10-storey building in this space. Unsurprisingly, the developer seems interested in hearing only specific and small-scale suggestions about the aesthetics and design of the building. They clearly plan to push for 20 storeys and it remains unclear what they are willing to settle for should City Council reject the proposal or seek a compromise.

Mr Firsten did not answer a question about the point at which his company would walk away from the project should they be required to lower their ambitions, but he was frustratingly adamant that there was no way to build an attractive 10-storey building in that space. The public is rightly skeptical of Firsten’s repeated claim that the only architectural possibility for a shorter building at 223 Princess is an “ugly blob.” The available plot is admittedly complex in its layout, but there are other examples of attractive downtown densification projects within blocks of the proposed site. Anna Lane, the new condo building at Queen and Bagot, was a frequent point of comparison, although it sits at the base of the hill and thus folds more organically into the low-rise streetscape of downtown than would a 20-storey building at its top.

I left the meeting with Mr Firsten with a longer list of concerns about the project than I had going in and the feeling that leaving the space empty would be better than building 20 storeys. I also have some hope that with enough pushback, a compromise solution sensitive to the human scale, the heritage feel of the city, and to a diversity of social and economic interests might prevail.

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Susanne Cliff-Jungling’s delegation to Kingston City Council, May 5 2015

On Tuesday May 5, Skeleton Park neighbour Susanne spoke to Council about the proposed ‘Valour District’. Here’s what she said.

Dear Mayor and Councillors,
Thank you for this opportunity for me to speak to you tonight.

I am here because of the proposal to establish a Valour District in Kingston. And I would like to talk to you about why I am opposed to such an idea.

I grew up in West-Germany.
My generation is called the ‘Dritte Generation’; we are the grandchildren of the war-generation.

I am a product of the process that was started by the Allies, a process to de-nazify and re-educate Germany. At the time, there was a strong sense among the victors that, to find sustaining and lasting peace in Europe, German society had to be re-educated, had to develop strong democratic institutions and an engaged citizenry.

So, in school, we were taught to mistrust war, to question military conflicts, and to question the role of the military in a society.

My generation learned to mistrust efforts to glorify war.
We were taught to mourn all victims of war.
We were taught that war must not be repeated and that it was our responsibility to work for peace.
We were taught that war is not (and never will be) an act of valour.
There was to be no remembering fallen soldiers as heroes.

Growing up in Germany, we learned that it is dangerous for a society to focus on its military accomplishments and to promote ideas of military valour. Glorifying war was seen as invariably leading to more military conflicts and legitimizing sending soldiers out to fight.

If fighting in war is a brave and valiant thing, then why not do it again – and again, and again and again!?

It is therefore ironic for me to live here in Kingston and find this City Council considering naming a Valour District. It seems so contradictory to the Allied message to Germans after the Second World War.

I hope that Council will accept the staff report and not support the creation of a Valour District in Kingston at this time, or, from my point of view, ever.

Let us instead recognize the tragedy of war and commit ourselves to the pursuit of peace -without the pretense that war is glorious.

Thank you.

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Park clean-up photos

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Will our neighbourhood soon become ‘valour district’?

Plans are afoot to label part of our neighbourhood the “valour district.” And City Council recently gave a unanimous green light to move ahead with considering the previously unheard-of scheme.

In early March the gallery at City Council was crowded with Kingston residents, many from the Skeleton Park neighbourhood. They had come to support the movement to finally put an end to the plans to drive the Wellington Street Extension through one of the few green spaces in the near north end. Thankfully, it seems like a Council majority agrees with the four neighbourhood women who have led the determined effort to put a stop to the pricey, disruptive road.

Then, at the end of the meeting, two suburban councillors came up with another motion aimed at our district.

Moved by Councillor Osanic, Seconded by Deputy Mayor Boehme

Whereas brave members of this community stepped forward in World War I and World War II to fight for King and country, and
Whereas many made the ultimate sacrifice in battle, and
Whereas interested supporters of the military community have requested an area be designated to commemorate the departure of the 21st Battalion and members of Queen’s Stationary Hospital from Kingston 100 years ago in May 2015,
Therefore Be It Resolved That staff be directed to bring a report to Council in April 2015, after having completed consultation, to consider designating an area spanning from the Kingston Armouries to Fort Frontenac as “Valour District” to commemorate the valiant military service of past Kingstonians and that the report would include the cost options with either altering or adding the district signs, an implementation plan, and a proposed schedule for the installation of the signs.

The language reflects the nineteenth century imperial spirit that no doubt gave rise to the street names that already dot the environs of Skeleton Park. Balaclava. Alma. Redan. Raglan. They speak of the Crimean War, best remembered as a testament to the long history of incompetence in the conduct of war – the tragically notorious Charge of the Light Brigade. Then, of course, we have Artillery Park. And, most bizarre of all, Ordnance Street – named after ammunition.

Proposed valour district street signs. (Draft)

Proposed valour district street signs. (Draft)

Kingston has almost as many war memorials as it does plaques and statues honouring Sir John A. Macdonald. We have artillery pieces in parks. A fine new Memorial Park – echoing Washington’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial — with the names of those killed in war. A City Hall Memorial Room with romantic, stained glass images of World War One. Triumphalist statues.

The issue of a valour district may provoke questions for some. It certainly does for me. That’s because I’ve been pondering issues of peace and war as well as the culture and politics of commemoration for several years now.

*Does Kingston have sufficient war memorials, especially those that tend to emphasize glory and valour?

*Who will be consulted about the proposed valour district? Will city officials confine their discussions to private chats with unnamed “supporters of the military community”? What about those of us who actually live nearby?

*Kingston has placed a moratorium on new commemoration initiatives until we have a fresh commemoration policy in place. The new policy has been subject to widespread community consultation, with consultants hired and surveys circulated. How does the apparent rush to commemorate a little-known 1915 event fit in with the city’s moratorium?

Proposed boundaries of the valour district. (Draft)

Proposed boundaries of the valour district. (Draft)

*Is there a way of commemorating this particular part of Kingston to include the first peoples who used the place?

*Should we develop ways of commemoration that highlight war’s unspeakable tragedies, its follies, it waste of life and its corrosive environmental effects?

*When commemorating people who have died on the job, why does the Official Story so often ignore workers who have built our city and died doing so? Are they not also worth commemorating?

The local group PeaceQuest planted a young oak tree in City Park on the International Day of Peace in 2013, just as the various WW I centenaries (see motion, above) were about to begin. The accompanying plaque, together with a granite marker, reads “Grieving the tragedy of war, committed to the promise of peace.” The group was obliged to pay for the granite marker out of its own funds. Who will pay for changing the street signs should this “valour district” go through?

Let’s stop harping on war. Let’s give peace a chance.

Kingston writer Jamie Swift has lived in the Skeleton Park area for 25 years. He’s the author with Ian McKay, of “Warrior Nation: Rebranding Canada in an Age of Anxiety.” Jamie and Ian are working on “The Vimy Trap,” a book about the cultural politics of commemoration

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Winter Solstice Gathering in the Park 12.21.14

Winter Solstice 2014

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